More to come.
The contention that Barry Allen represented some iconic state of grace, to which the DC Universe might return, is at the very least problematic. Since Crisis on Infinite Earths, Wally West had starred in slightly more issues of Flash than his predecessor. But counting specials, annuals, and the like, Wally West’s tenure exceeded Barry Allen’s by far more. Also, Wally’s stories had been frequently focused on characterization, in an era that expected this in its super-hero comics. Barry Allen had never been a cipher, but it’s not too much to say that Barry had been characterized more during this period, in flashbacks and the like, than he ever was during his own adventures.
It is true that Barry Allen had never completely disappeared, and he remained very much beloved in the DC Universe. It could also be said that Wally West had been defined as a character using his dead mentor. This is one reason why the Flash TV show had chosen Barry Allen as its protagonist. Of course, with DC thinking about possible movies starring its characters, Barry Allen’s return at least made commercial sense.
But in the comics, Wally West had long escaped Barry Allen’s shadow. If any continuing character from either of the big two companies had been given a coherent character arc, over the course of decades, it was Wally West. From a rather lost young adult, struggling with his mentor’s death and a lack of direction, Wally had very much come into his own. He was allowed to marry and even to become a parent. Robin would never graduate to become Batman; Bruce Wayne is too iconic. But the DC Universe was a generational story, in which Wally West represented, more than anyone else, a sidekick who had grown up to assume a place of undisputed respect as the DC Universe’s Flash.
And if one wished to see it, this story actually made a far more compelling subject for a super-hero movie than a police scientist struck by chemicals. In fact, this might have been used to distinguish any Flash movie from the plethora of other super-hero films, which had come to dominate Hollywood blockbusters.
Once Barry Allen had returned, he felt like a very strange fit. Hal Jordan, whom writer Geoff Johns had also restored as DC’s main Green Lantern, had been gone about a decade. Barry Allen had been absent for a quarter century. Seeing him in decompressed, long-form stories — especially ones with a level of violence his own stories couldn’t have imagined — felt wrong. Moreover, Barry Allen’s generally repressed, goody-two-shoes character also wasn’t suited to this new era of super-hero stories. It’s not that Barry Allen never got angry, but it was impossible to imagine him as an agonized contemporary hero. Hal Jordan, by contrast, had long been defined by anger, poor choices in relationships, and a sense of being lost amid cosmos-spanning chaos. Inevitably, the demands of contemporary stories would shift Barry’s characterization away from anything recognizable as a continuation of the old Barry Allen. This new Barry Allen was simply a new alter ego, whose name and likeness resembled the old Barry Allen, without any sense of real continuity.